The 2020 MLB season is already more than halfway complete. So far 443 of 900 scheduled games have been played, or 49 percent, though 35 of the regular season’s 67 days have ticked off the calendar. MLB has to squeeze 457 games into the next 32 days. That’s and average of 14.3 games per day.

The season’s first month has reinforced what we already knew coming into the season: the American League is very top and bottom heavy. There are many great teams and many awful teams, and very few teams in the middle. There’s more parity in the National League. The American League is the land of haves and have-nots.

As a result, the expanded American League postseason field is mostly set with 32 days to play. This would be the Junior Circuit’s postseason bracket if the season ended today, which thankfully it does not:

The top three spots are the division winners, the next three spots are the second-place teams, and the final two wild-card spots are the remaining teams with the best records. Cleveland and the White Sox have identical records, but Cleveland gets second place (and thus homefield advantage in the best-of-three Wild Card Round) because the team leads the season series (4-2).

After the top eight teams, the American League standings drop off in a hurry. Here are the seven teams not in postseason position:

  • Orioles: 14-16 (.467) (1 1/2 games behind Blue Jays for second wild-card spot)
  • Tigers: 13-16 (.448) (2 GB)
  • Royals: 12-19 (.387) (4 GB)
  • Mariners: 12-19 (.387) (4 GB)
  • Rangers: 11-19 (.367) (4 1/2 GB)
  • Red Sox: 10-21 (.323) (6 GB)
  • Angels: 10-22 (.313) (6 1/2 GB)

Only two of the seven American League teams not in postseason position are within even three games of a postseason spot, and they just so happen to be the game’s two worst teams from a year ago. The Tigers went 47-114 in 2019. The Orioles were slightly better at 54-108. The Rangers have crashed hard lately (1-10 in their last 11 games), the Red Sox are already selling, and the Angels, Mariners, and Royals are expected to sell prior to Monday’s trade deadline. 

To put the American League’s disparity another way, seven teams have at least a 97 percent chance to make the postseason, according to FanGraphs. Five have less than a 10 percent chance, leaving three teams in the middle: Blue Jays (65.6 percent), Tigers (11.2 percent), and Orioles (10.5 percent). Eight National League teams are between 10 and 90 percent, including five between 40 and 75 percent (plus one more at 39 percent). The National League is much more wide open.

Do the Orioles or Tigers have an advantage over the other? Eh, hard to say. They both have tough remaining schedules — Detroit’s remaining opponents have a combined .552 winning percentage while Baltimore’s are at .536 — though it’s worth noting the Tigers have shown more urgency to improve by calling up top prospects Casey Mize, Isaac Paredes, and Tarik Skubal. The Orioles won’t even commit to giving prospect Keegan Akin a rotation spot despite ample opportunity.

Can the Tigers (or Orioles) give the Blue Jays a run for the No. 8 seed?

Of course, the best-case scenario for baseball fans is neither the Orioles nor Tigers nor Blue Jays separating themselves from the other two teams. A three-team race is better than a two-team race, and one team pulling away from the other two is no race at all. The added intrigue here is the Blue Jays and Orioles have seven head-to-head games remaining, including four this weekend and the final three games of the season. Wouldn’t it be something if a postseason spot was on the line those last three games?

For the most part, the top seven postseason spots in the American League are set. Seeding is still up for grabs — the Yankees could pass the Rays and take over first place, Cleveland or the White Sox could catch the Twins in the AL Central, etc. — but those seven teams will occupy those seven spots barring a significant collapse, and hey, a collapse is possible. In this short season though, there is much less time for it to happen. There’s a reason those seven teams have such great postseason odds.

With a month remaining in the season almost all the American League postseason intrigue is tied up in the No. 8 spot. The bottom five teams in the league are out of (or falling out of) the postseason picture, so the race for the No. 8 spot is down to the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Tigers. The teams we expected to be in the race coming into 2020? Absolutely not, but this is pretty much the only postseason race we have in the American League, so let’s root for it to go right down to Game 60.


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